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Janet Kithia-Odero prefers to shop online. From cakes to airtime, the 33-year-old public relations executive, shops and pays at the click of a button.

Janet Kithia-Odero prefers to shop online. From cakes to airtime, the 33-year-old public relations executive, shops and pays at the click of a button.

A few days ago, she bought a goat at a virtual shop for a Jamhuri Day party she’s organising at her home in Kiambu County.

“I get to work at 7.30am and at times, leave very late in the evening. They (online shops) offer deliveries and if it’s local and within Nairobi’s CBD, the delivery could be subsidised or delivered free,” she says.

She is not the only one who has embraced online shopping. Take Eric Kibet, an accountant with a city micro-finance bank. He has paid for a three-day, two-night Jamhuri getaway to Amboseli National Park through an online shop at Sh33,000. “It was my first time to shop online. I found it easier than making calls or walking to town to have a travel agent take my booking,” he says.

The variety for the same service allowed him to scout for the best deal. “I paid via Visa, but there were other options from M-Pesa to MasterCard.”

However, not all Kenyans have warmed up to virtual shops. Ezekiel Gitau suspects online shops could be scams. “No, I prefer to walk into a shop, get whatever I need and pay with cash. Who knows what a seller, whom I cannot see, will do with my credit card?”

On the extreme end are consumers such as Lydiah Wanjiku who have lost money on ghost deals. She lost Sh20,000.

“I had been shopping online for a fridge. In many of the online shops I visited, it was going for between Sh27,000 and Sh30,000. Then I stumbled on a Sh20,000 offer. Without thinking, I swallowed the bait,” she says.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, 18 to 24 per cent of local consumers shop online. Granted, many more consumers may be looking to shop online, with some opting for global e-retailers.

In any event, the common denominator for both local and international e-retailers remains the know-how on how to shop safely. Well, today, Money looks at what you should consider when shopping in virtual platforms:

Shop on secure websites only

Identifying a reputable, genuine e–retailer outlet is not simple. “You are likely to come across websites with very enticing offers, but take note that offers and exciting shopping interfaces could very well be a veil for an illegal or fraudulent shopping website,” says Oliver Facey, the vice-president operations for DHL Express sub-Saharan Africa. “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

A host of phantom sites are likely to pop up during this festive season. One of the simplest ways to determine if the site you’re shopping on is secure is to check its address bar. According to Mathew Ndiema, an IT expert based in Nakuru, secure website addresses should always start with https and a green padlock in front of the https. “This indicates that the transaction you’re making and all of the information contained in your transaction is secured through encryption,” Mr Ndiema says.

Use secure passwords and usernames

Always bear in mind that many online shopping websites will tend to store your debit or credit card details for convenience and further use.

“Never, though, use one password on two shopping websites, or shop when your internet software is outdated and vulnerable to viruses. You will be exposed to phishing scams, viruses, and fraudulent sites” cautions Mr Ndiema.

Global shopping rules

“Consumers should be aware of the regulations involved with purchasing from international retailers,” notes Mr Facey. “This will guard you from incurring additional expenses, thereby making the product less of an attractive buy.”

According to DHL Express, you should select a premium courier delivery option where the goods can be tracked from dispatch to final delivery.

“During purchasing, you should have your cost of shipping, the expected transit duration and value of your order checked,” the shipping firm notes. Mr Facey adds that before you shop and ship anything, bear in mind the extra expenses your product could attract.

“Import shipments may be subject to interventions by customs where the price, contents and country of manufacturer are often investigated to mitigate a wide range of risks, causing delivery delays as well as additional costs,” adds Mr Facey.

Know the customs’ import duties and taxes

Consumers are often caught off-guard when their shipments arrive from overseas e-retailers with unexpected additional charges.

You should therefore counter check and find out whether you may have to pay customs duty for your online purchases, depending on the country that you are buying the goods from, and the tax regulations in your country.

These include import duties and taxes, which are usually calculated as a percentage of the item value.

“They (consumers) may fail to take into consideration the duties and taxes imposed on imported items by the Kenya Revenue Authority and other government agencies. An item bought for Sh3,000 can easily attract extra charges of Sh9,000 when it arrives at JKIA,” he says.

There are also e-retailers who offer delivered duty paid terms which clearly communicates that all costs, inclusive of duties, taxes and clearance costs, are payable at checkout, to avoid any surprise charges at destination.

Check tax rules on gifts

When buying a gift online, check on the receiving country’s regulations prior to the purchase to avoid the recipient being slapped additional charges.

For instance, customs bureaus in Angola have legislated tax-free exemptions for gifts to an individual as long as the value is less than Sh31,500. In Zimbabwe, this limit stands at Sh5,000. “In Kenya, though, there are no tax exemptions for gifts,” says DHL boss.

Look out for payment seals

According to Forbes, consumers should always check for secure payment seals.

“Payments seals are additional layers of security that verify that the website you’re making your transaction on are not only a legitimate website but that they also secure your information via SSL data encryption.”

Avoid restricted products

Some goods on online shops may be prohibited or have certain limitations. For instance, if you intend to shop and import perfume, you may encounter possible restrictions as flammable liquids are categorised as dangerous goods.

In addition, there may also be country specific restrictions. When shopping for certain foods or animal by-products, make sure you are aware of any possible restrictions.

Get the right delivery option

Many virtual shops offer numerous delivery options, which come at an extra cost. According to DHL, select a premium courier delivery option where the delivery can be tracked from dispatch to final destination.

“During purchasing, you should have your cost of shipping, the expected transit duration and value of your order checked,” the company notes.